One of the things I love about music is its ability to express emotions and thoughts. Even the idea of humor and irony can be expressed without a word being said. Below are four examples of this that I like : )
Bela Bartok was one of the 20th Century’s greatest composers. His 6 string quartets rank with those of Beethoven.
Bartok String quartet #5 fifth movement: Notice at about the 5th minute the music begins to build to what one might think is a triumphant ending, instead the tone turns sarcastic at about 6:28 with a deliberate banal melody and out of tune violin, then the finale ends after the unexpected twist.
When Dimitri Shostakovich was about to compose his 9th symphony, the brutal Russian dictator Josef Stalin asked him to make it on the grand scale of Beethoven’s 9th in honor of him. Shostakovich could not bring himself to write music to honor such a man he secretly hated, who almost had him killed at one point. Instead he composed a small scale light little work full of sarcastic trombones and bombast to reflect his true feelings. This was his “Finger in the pocket” to Stalin. Shostakovich Symphony #9 first movement:
Frank Zappa was a master of humor in music. Throughout his career he used music as a sarcastic tool to lampoon corrupt politicians and fake TV evangelists. But he also just loved to hear how music could be used to express humor as fun. At the same time he created music that was interesting, intelligent and original. A great example is from his album Burnt Weeny Sandwich: Igor’s Boogie, Phase Two/Holiday in Berlin, Full Blown/Aybe Sea.
One of the greatest symphonies of the 20th Century was Gustav Mahler’s 9th. The famous 4th movement “adagio” is as moving as any music can be. However, before we get to this movement of acceptance of death and peace, we need to understand the 3rd movement “Rondo Burleske”. It is a bitter, sarcastic, biting commentary on life from a man who was only a few years away from death and he knew it. He had been diagnosed with a heart condition. In this movement, he expresses his anger at his fellow composers who dismissed him as a conductor who just composed on the side. He even made a side sarcastic side note dedication in the score: “For my brothers in Apollo”. The music is fast and angry with a slow section which anticipates the final movement to come.
Mahler Symphony #9 third movement Rondo Burleske:
Piero della Francesca (c. 1415 – October 12, 1492) was a painter of the early Renaissance. His painting was characterized by its serene quality, its use of geometric forms and perspective. His most famous work is the cycle of frescoes The Legend of the True Cross in the church of San Francesco in the Tuscan town of Arezzo.
Wikipedia link to Piero della Francesca http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piero_della_Francesca
Czech composer Bohuslav Martinu (December 8, 1890 – August 28, 1959) visited the church in Arezzo and was inspired to write a three movement work for orchestra entitled Les Fresques de Piero della Francesca.
Wikipedia link to Martinu:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bohuslav_Martin%C5%AF
Below the paintings is a performance of the first movement of this work. I think Martinu’s music captures the feeling in the frescoes. I have always found a luminous quality to Martnu’s music escpecially in the strings for which he had a special affinity since he was also a violinist. Conductor : Sir Charles Mackerras Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra (Supraphon33co-1056).
You sent out a beacon, testing for echo
A subtle signal searching the airways
Vibrations oscillating towards my meadow
A stone dropped in a pool creating waves
Sending back a message to your call
Drawn by your curves, drawn in the air
A Woman’s way with music lyrics and all
A song so familiar a melody so fair
Hello dear sender, thank you for your tune
Your words resonating within my mind
I heard your voice while dreaming in my room
Please respond, please say you’ll be mine
I like your phrasing, I like your style
Oh can it be you’re just like me?
I wrote a sonnet, might make you smile
It speaks of love and hearts so free
My radar set to pick up desire
Your particles appear on my screen
Yes, I see you coming through the wire
Your test was successful our joy can be seen
A million stars in the heavens
The spiral galaxies I’m under
Looking up into the cosmic womb
Seeing all the beauty and wonder
From the darkness her light shines
A single star distinct from the rest
She streakes across the sky
Burning, glowing, towards my chest
Oh! How did you know I was waiting?
When did you sense my longing?
So many years of astronomy
My telescope searched for loving
By Dante dedicated to Daevina
It has occured to me that certain elements seem to be present whenever a musician or composer wishes to express spiritual ecstasy in music. Frequently, we hear repetitive musical phrases with an upbeat rhythm and a profound feeling of joy with notes being played in the upper registers. It also seems to cross musical and cultural borders. This observation has led me to think that somewhere in the human mind there is a common way of expressing such feelings. Here are five examples which I think may demonstrate this, see if you agree?
Arvo Part: Arbos for 4 trumpets 4 trombones and percussion
Zap Mama: Brrrlak Accapella
Lou Harrison: Suite for Violin and American Gamelan; II Estampie
John Coltrane: My Favorite things, from timing 7:10 when the melody is played to about 12:10
Frank Zappa: Revised music for low budget orchestra, from timing 4:30 to 5:55